Airports Authority Accused of Disrupting Firefighting Efforts in Northern Israel

Firefighting pilots have been denied access to the nearest airfield in Haifa and forced to use the further afield Meggido airport.

Efforts to combat wildfires up north are being hampered because firefighting pilots have been denied access to the nearest airfield, David Golan, the director of the Chim-Nir aviation company, told Haaretz yesterday. The Chim-Nir pilots have been taking part in the effort to put out the fires around the Meshushim pool in the Golan and the Sheva junction in the central Galilee.

Golan said that although an agreement had been reached to allow his planes to use the Haifa airport, they were prevented from using the airport at Mahanayim to take off, land and store chemicals because of bureaucratic mangling with the Israel Airports Authority (IAA ). For lack of a better alternative, they were forced to use the more distant airport Meggido.

fire - Gil Eliyahu - June 20 2011
Gil Eliyahu

He said that logistical problems in transporting materials by truck to the Meggido airport had also created a shortage of fire retardants. In the past, a ready stock had been available at the Mahanayim airport. Had the planes taken off from Mahanayim, Golan said, they would have been able to take control of the fire far more rapidly and effectively, salvaging at least 100 acres.

In a statement, the IAA said the allegations were baseless. "The IAA has allowed Chim-Nir to operate from the Mahanayim airport both in this latest wildfire and on previous occasions," the statement said. "Contrary to what the CEO of Chim-Nir has said, the manager of the Mahanayim airport, who also manages the Haifa airport, allowed firefighting planes to use Mahanayim as soon as the fire was reported. Golan's remarks, according to which understandings have been reached with Haifa but not with Mahanayim, are bizarre, since both are run by the same person, Yossi Goldberg"

According to estimates released yesterday, about 250 acres of grazing grounds and woodlands having been consumed by the Golan wildfire. The other fire came close to Kibbutz Parod, where it consumed about 12 acres of vegetation and woodlands.

The new firefighting squadron acquired by Israel after the Carmel fire was inaugurated in May. It consists of seven Air Tractor 802 planes, purchased for a total of NIS 70 million. The squadron is named after teenage firefighting volunteer Elad Rivan, who was killed in the Carmel forest fire. The squadron is managed by the Air Force, but the pilots are employed by Chim-Nir.